One effect of divorce is that children will often take the blame upon themselves. A subsequent effect is when a spouse enters into another relationship – an unsettling event if handled incorrectly.
This article discusses how to handle these and other effects of divorce on your children, including changes in behavior.
By Mike Spencer
Should you stay together for the children when things go wrong in a marriage? Actually, divorce may be the better option for them in the long run. Living with a tense atmosphere and maybe even the odd slamming door and shouting match can do more harm than the parents’ separation. Even without these signs children can sense when things aren’t quite right.
During divorce proceedings try to make sure the children know what is going on. Explain it in terms they can understand. They need to know how they will be affected and reassured that you will do your best to keep their lives as unchanged as possible. Try to avoid a situation where they will have to leave their school and friends at the same time as seeing their parents separate.
Many children will wonder if they are to blame somehow. It must be affirmed over and again that this is not their fault by both parents before it will sink in. In fact apportioning blame to anyone in front of the children is not a good idea even if it’s quite obvious what lead to the troubles.
Then they have the agony of wondering if they should be taking one parent’s side over the other. It’s best not to use your children as a confidant during this emotional time regardless of how mature they may seem. They should be allowed to carry on loving each parent as they did before without the knowledge of what one did or said to the other. You can do your crying on the shoulder of an understanding adult friend.
Schools and other organisations that the children attend can help keep you informed about any changes in their behaviour and can be a great source of information on how the children are coping with the changes. They may feel the need to hide their emotions at home as you seem to have enough on your plate. Keep the teachers up to date with what is going on in their family lives. There is no shame in divorce these days – around 1 in 3 children will go through their parents’ separation.
There will always be the situation where one parent is not prepared to play along with the best practices. The one that does put down the other parent in front of the children, doesn’t turn up when they’re expected or won’t let the children visit with the other parent. It’s best not to ‘play them at their own game’. An announcement of ‘See I told you daddy’s a so-and-so/mummy’s a this-and-that!’ is perhaps not the best way to go.
Rarely is shared custody awarded to parents these days so there will be just the one principle carer. Children need to know, however, that both parents still want to be a part of their lives. For the person who does not have principle care it is important that your children know your home is theirs too. Make a space for their belongings to stay for when they visit.
Eventually one or both parents will enter a new relationship. This, too, can be an unsettling experience for the children, especially if the introduction is handled in the wrong way. It is often less stressful to introduce a new partner as a friend at first and to make sure that any intimate moments take place away from their eyes and ears. This way the children can form a good relationship with this person and be happy when they find out that the association is rather more than ‘just friends’.
As far as the children are concerned, even once divorce has taken place, mum, dad and kids are still family. This means they will want both parents involved in the important events in their lives. Try to help each other and work together in getting both of you to the school play or graduation day. You may have ended your marriage but your partnership in bringing up your children in the best way possible must continue in order for divorce recovery.